Durbin Critical of C-Stores in Marketing, Sale of Energy Drinks

Senate hearing puts Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar execs, their products on hot seat

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

WASHINGTON-- U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) delivered opening remarks at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation examining the potential health risks of energy drinks and the marketing of these products to youth.

"Energy drinks are now a common fixture in grocery stores, vending machines and convenience stores. I would really challenge anybody in this room to go to their favorite gas station and stand at the cash register, and if you cannot reach an energy drink as you stand there, I'll be shocked. Throughout Illinois ... they are as close to the register--as close to the consumer--as possible, said Durbin.

"As the sale of energy drinks has grown, so has the alarming evidence that they pose a potential health risk, and the energy drink market has grown to its current size because it is marketing to children," Durbin contended.

He urged energy drink makers to adopt policies prohibiting marketing to adolescents up to the age of 18.

(Watch the embedded video of his testimony, or click here to read his prepared remarks. And click here to watch the archived webcast of the full hearing, which begins at approximately the 40-minute mark.)

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.) chaired the hearing, entitled "Energy Drinks: Exploring Concerns About Marketing to Youth."

Witnesses included Dr. Marcie Beth Schneider of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Dr. Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University; Dr. William R. Spencer, Suffolk County, N.Y., legislator; and Dr. James R. Coughlin, president of Coughlin & Associates, consultants in food, nutritional and chemical toxicology and safety.

(Click on their names to view their prepared testimony, which includes data.)

Harris also referred to c-stores in her testimony: "Most energy drinks are sold in convenience stores where special displays encourage impulse purchases, and minors can easily buy them without parental consent."

Beverage industry witnesses included Amy E. Taylor, vice president and general manager of Red Bull North America, Santa Monica, Calif.; Rodney Sacks, chairman and CEO of Monster Beverage Corp., Corona, Calif.; and Janet Weiner, CFO and COO of Rockstar Inc., Mill Valley, Calif.

They defended their products, their labeling and their marketing practices, which they said do not include marketing to children under the age of 12.

(Click on their names to view their prepared testimony, which includes data.)

Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), the committee's ranking Republican member, said, "Concerns about the levels of caffeine in energy drinks--and the possible effects on children and adolescents who consume these products--have prompted several studies and investigations. While it is entirely appropriate to examine these issues, we should also consider the broader context regarding caffeinated products."

He added, "Few would challenge the statement that children should not be consuming highly caffeinated energy drinks. So, I look forward to hearing the steps that the companies represented here today are taking to ensure their products are safe, as well as the efforts they are undertaking to ensure their products are marketed appropriately. Protecting the health of our children is very important. I believe it is also important to rely on good science, careful investigation and accurate evaluations when assessing the possible health risks of energy drinks and other products."

(Click here to view a video of his testimony, as well as his prepared remarks.)